Class-action lawsuit claims RZIM donations misused, funneled to pay off sex abuse survivors

Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016.
Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias speaks to tens of thousands of young adults in Atlanta's Philips Arena on Sunday, January 3, 2016. | Courtesy of Passion Conference/Phil Sanders

Donors to Ravi Zacharias International Ministries have filed a lawsuit against the late Christian apologist’s organization, alleging their funds were funneled to women subjected to its founder’s sexual misconduct as he gave money and expensive gifts to survivors, including $40,000 toward on woman's culinary schooling.

“Defendants bilked tens — if not hundreds — of millions of dollars from well-meaning donors who believed RZIM and Zacharias to be faith-filled Christian leaders,” claims the lawsuit filed in the federal court for the North District of Georgia. “In fact, Zacharias was a prolific sexual predator who used his ministry and RZIM funds to perpetrate sexual and spiritual abuse against women.”

After Zacharias’s death last May, an in-depth report by Atlanta law firm Miller & Martin, independent investigators hired by RZIM, revealed that he engaged in “sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape” during his life.

The lawsuit has been filed by The Brad Sohn Law Firm, PLLC on behalf of people who donated to RZIM from 2004 through Feb. 9, 2021, and it's based on the report by Miller & Martin.

“It is incredibly disheartening to think that a sexual predator would hide behind faith and a ministry to do as we allege was done here,” Attorney Brad R. Sohn of the law firm said in a statement. “We are pleased to begin fighting for these bilked donors, who obviously felt strongly enough about their faith to part with their hard-earned money, only to learn they did so under the falsest of pretenses.”

The independent investigators’ report included interviews with more than a dozen massage therapists who treated Zacharias over the years.

One massage therapist said the evangelist often tried for “more than a massage,” while four massage therapists said Zacharias masturbated or asked them to touch his genitals during massages. Five said he “touched or rubbed them inappropriately.”

Another massage therapist “reported details of many encounters over a period of years that she described as rape,” according to the report.

“RZIM’s actions and failure to respond appropriately to reports of Zacharias’s sexual misconduct furthered the public deception that Zacharias was a faith-filled, moral, and upstanding Christian leader. RZIM’s acts and omissions further allowed Zacharias to continue sexually abusing women under the cover of Christian ministry and permitted Zacharias’s ongoing, deceptive fundraising efforts for RZIM,” the lawsuit says.

The investigation report revealed that one of the witnesses said that Zacharias engaged in sexual intercourse.

After Zacharias talked with her about her faith and finances, establishing himself as a “father figure,” he arranged for his ministry to provide her with financial support. However, he then demanded sex and “warned her not ever to speak out against him or she would be responsible for the ‘millions of souls’ whose salvation would be lost if his reputation was damaged.”

“A number of aspects of this account involved similar behavior and escalation as the accounts of other therapists who would not have known each other and who treated Mr. Zacharias in different contexts over time,” noted the report.

Throughout his decades-long ministry, Zacharias, who died of cancer at the age of 74, was a globally respected apologist. A prolific figure in American Christian radio and TV, he founded RZIM in 1984. Today, the ministry has offices in 15 countries and nearly 300 staffers.

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